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4 bald eagles die in Utah from similar symptoms

Associated Press Updated: December 15, 2013 at 10:15 am

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Four bald eagles have died from similar symptoms in northern Utah in the past two weeks, raising alarms among state wildlife officials who are working to determine what happened.

The four birds died within days of being brought into wildlife shelters in poor shape, said Leslie McFarlane, wildlife disease coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. They each experienced body tremors and paralysis before dying.

The dying birds were discovered and taken to the shelters from Dec. 1-10, found in four different counties: Weber, Box Elder, Tooele and Utah counties.

"They are from all over, so it's kind of mystery," McFarlane said. "We're really not sure what it might be."

The story was first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Bald eagles migrate to Utah in the winter, with many gathering at the Great Salt Lake where there's plenty of carp to eat in freshwater bays.

Officials have done a necropsy on one of the birds, and will do similar testing on the other three next week. McFarlane says they don't think they were killed on purpose. It could be encephalitis, which is caused by West Nile Virus, though McFarlane said it's late for that.

They haven't ruled anything out, she said.

"With any of our protected birds, we want to make sure it's not poisoning or anything like that," McFarlane said.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah tried nursing three of the majestic birds back to health, but couldn't save them, said executive director DaLyn Erickson.

"It has been a hard week for us," Erickson said. "With any animal, but especially a national symbol like the bald eagle, to see them struggling and thrashing about and not being able to save them is a hard thing to go through."

Erickson said they've had other bald eagles brought to the rehab center, but she said she's never seen this many in such a short time. McFarlane echoed that, saying this is the first time in her 10 years in her position that she's seen a rash of bald eagles die.

She said it will probably take two weeks until necropsy results come back on the other three bald eagles.

"We've got to wait until the laboratories can take a good look at each of them," McFarlane said.

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